Title: In the Gardens of the Past, Chapter 26 (The War Cry, Part 4)
Author: B5Crusader
Date: 8-15-98
Revised Date: 6-04-00


"He is dangerous." One thought.

"He is our best hope." The other answered.

"He can not be controlled. He threatens the path." The first said, a spark of anger seeping into the thought.

"The path is unchanged." The third rebuked.

"He must be made to understand." The first said.

"No." The second interrupted.

A pause arose between them.

"His actions threaten the balance." The first stated again, almost stridently.

"His actions have brought balance where once there was none." The second countered.

"Then he has succeeded?" The third asked, as if surprised.

"Yes." The second replied.

"Then he must be made to understand." The first stated again.

"No. This one is different. He will not blindly obey," The second stated.

"Then we will show him the path so he may understand." The third agreed with the first.

"No. His path is already set. We may only guide him." The second argued.

Another pause.

"Why?" The third inquired curiously.

"He is different than the others." The second replied.

"Different?" The first asked.

"Yes." Came the cryptic reply.

"Then it shall be as you say." The third spoke.

"For now." Added the first."

The second merely acknowledged the decision in silence. His greater wisdom and experience had won the decision this time.

---------------------------

"You failed."

The K'ran shivered in fear before the Great Ones, the Ancients. "A new enemy befell us."

"Minbari!" The Ancient hissed angrily.

"Yes." The K'ran bowed deeply, avoiding any eye contact with the Ancients before it. It could hear their clicking and hissing between them.

"Minbari are weak." The Ancient hissed.

"They are not weak! They destroyed one of your ships!" The K'ran retorted; anger over the implied cowardice overrode its fear. An instant later it groaned in agony as he was punished for its ill chosen words.

After a moment the pain passed. The K'ran dared a look to see the Ancients had fallen silent. It waited quietly for its master's decision, both anticipating and dreading the words to come.

"Have done well. Go. We shall call you again when needed."

The K'ran bowed deeply and scrambled from the room gratefully.

"He survived the trap."

"Yes. He is cunning. A worthy adversary."

"Then the balance has been restored."

"Yes."

"Good. It is time to proceed as planned."

"The K'ran?"

"They serve loyally."

"Begin the next phase."

---------------------------

Ser'Pak Capitol, Ser'Pak, Ser'Hal Alliance

It was cold. Bitterly cold. And the light breeze only seemed to add to the chill. In spite of this, it did not really bother her. It was a reminder from the universe that she was alive. That she had survived where so many others had fallen.

"Today is a great victory for Minbar."

Emphilio glanced out of the corner of her eye to Sherann. "For us all." She added, bringing a slight frown to the Shai Alyt's face.

"Of course." He added reluctantly, turning his gaze towards the crowds gathering.

The Serpkan's were already celebrating, hissing and clicking and moving about wildly in a most odd way. Not far from the crowds Valen stood with a handful of Serpkan leaders.

"Why are you not with Valen?" Sherann asked, noting two Anla'shok casually observing the crowd as they hovered around Valen.

"There are no more K'ran soldiers present and he is adequately protected. My presence is unneeded." Emphilio replied matter-of-factly.

"I see." Was all Sherann said in reply.

"You disapprove."

"I disapprove of many things, Emphilio Sha'tha."

Emphilio's lips curled in amusement at the bitterness in Sherann's words. "Such as our alliance with the aliens?"

"I can accept alliances with our equals." A contemptuous sneer briefly crossed his face.

"Which the Serpkans are not." Emphilio finished for Sherann.

Sherann nodded slowly. "Obviously they are not. Look at them. Dancing and chanting like the primitive barbarians they are."

"They sing their teh'la. Their home songs." Emphilio noted. "Would we not do the same in their position?"

"You have no right to speak to me in such a fashion, Anla'shok. Speak no further." Sherann growled before he turned to leave.

Emphilio grinned at his retreating back, pleased she was finally alone even if only for a short time. It would be enough for now. As quickly as the grin came it left again as thoughts of the past few days events came to mind.

Harrowing images came to mind as she remembered the screams, the blood, and the bodies. So many bodies. Her comrades. Her enemies. After a time she had simply stopped thinking of them as anything more than 'the bodies'.

The fighting had been the most brutal she could recall participating in her entire life outside of the internecine fighting between the clans on Minbar. Before such bloodshed had never bothered her. It was simply a fact of her existence. But this time what she had seen disturbed her deeply and she knew not why.

"You seem distracted."

Emphilio blinked in surprise, easily covering the adrenaline rush she felt at having been startled so easily. She shrugged lightly giving the scarred Minbari beside her a brief once over, noting the torn cloak and stained clothes of her fellow Anla'shok.

"Just thinking about the battle and what we must do next, Felio."

"Ah, of course." Felio replied with a half smile.

"You sound as if you do not believe me."

"Oh, I believe that you were thinking of what must be done next, but I doubt your thoughts were of a martial nature." The older Minbari replied easily.

Oddly enough, Emphilio felt herself blush at the implication even knowing it was untrue. Quickly regaining control she straitened her shoulders. "I was just thinking about all those that died here and about those who will be lost in the battles ahead."

Felio nodded slowly. "It is a difficult thing to see so many die. And to know you are responsible for their deaths."

Emphilio looked at the older warrior oddly. "How did you...?"

Felio waved his hand easily, with an understanding gaze. "Know you are feeling guilty?" He shrugged. "I have seen the look enough times when I see my face in the mirror to recognize it in another's eyes."

"Warriors should not feel guilt over those who died so nobly." Emphilio stated.

"That is what the Elders tell the young who must fight. It isn't true, of course." Felio sighed.

"I know." Emphilio agreed softly. "But I am just as responsible for those who've died as Valen or Sherann or the Council are. I can not let my feelings interfere with that."

"Yes, you are responsible but how does denying your feelings help any? Does Valen hide what he feels at such loss of life?" Felio asked.

"No. He does not show what some would consider weakness but the compassion and pain is all ways there to see." Emphilio replied.

"And haven't you noticed how much more loyal we Anla'shok are to him then say the Wind Swords are to Sherann?" Felio smiled slightly. "It is easy to fight for your Clan when it is all you know. But would you follow one who shows no concern for his followers or one who by his very deeds inspires concern for all around him?"

Emphilio chuckled lightly. "When did you become so wise?"

Felio joined her laughter. "I am inspired by those I follow."

Emphilio nodded slowly. "I think I understand now. Thank you, Anla'shok Felio."

The Minbari bowed his head in a humble nod. "I am pleased to be of some small service."

A sudden disturbance near Valen ended Emphilio's intended reply. A handful of Anla'shok had taken the strange Minbari aside, gesturing towards the northern quarter of the city, a section that had been mostly reduced to rubble during the battle.

"It would appear something has our fellow warriors upset." Felio commented with his usual dry humor.

"So it would seem." Emphilio agreed, starting towards the gathering with rising trepidation as she saw a frown cross Valen's face. Wordlessly, Felio fell in step beside her, an oddly calming gesture from the scarred warrior.

"You're absolutely certain?" Valen as saying as she and her companion neared. His hazel eyes flicked up to meet Emphilio's own curious blue gaze before returning to the young Anla'shok before him.

"Yes, Anla'shok Na. I've also sent a courier to inform Shai Alyt Sherann of the discovery. I've had my roin secure the area for your arrival." The Minbari replied nervously.

"Very well. Alyt Emphilio and Felio shall accompany us. The rest of you remain here and enjoy yourselves." While his words had been spoken without any apparent concern, both Emphilio and Felio caught momentary flash of concern in his eyes. "You've earned it."

The small handful of Anla'shok around him smiled and nodded their thanks as they joined the nearby revelers. In short order only Valen, Emphilio, Felio and the other remained.

"What is wrong?" Emphilio asked once certain it was safe to speak openly.

"The remains of a Shadow fighter had been found in the city. Apparently it was damaged and crashed during the battle." Valen replied.

Felio frowned at this information. "Is it still active?"

Valen cast an eye towards the young Anla'shok. "Turen?"

The Minbari in question bobbed is head uncertainly, instantly marking him as one of the Anla'shok recruited from the religious caste. "When one of my roin touched the skin of the vessel...he died. Instantly."

Felio nodded sagely. "I witnessed a similar occurrence in my first battle against the Darkness but that does not necessarily mean the vessel is still active."

"What about it's pilot?" Emphilio asked. She like many desired to know exactly who and what these Shadows were and what they looked like. Valen's descriptions were vague to the point that Emphilio suspected that her leader wasn't even sure what they looked like.

"Still with in the vessel, Alyt." Turen replied. "I felt it was safer to secure the area and bring those more knowledgeable than I to the crash site."

"Show us." Valen ordered.

*****

Emphilio eyed the strange craft and its mottled, organic looking skin with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation. In her many encounters against the Darkness she had seen ships such as this one, impressing upon her the darkness and malevolence they conveyed.

Now in actual physical contact with one she could barely contain the wave of revulsion that tremored through her frame at the sight of the ship and the ripples of movement across it's shattered hull and spiky protuberances. Strange dark fluid seeped from the fighter's damage, morbidly similar to blood from her vantage point.

"I never thought I would be this close to one of these things again." Despite Felio's soft tone, Emphilio still jumped slightly at his words. Emphilio glanced over to the scared warrior beside her, noting the pain in his eyes that his otherwise placid features hid.

"At the colony?" Emphilio prompted.

Felio nodded once. "Strange that crippled as this ship is, it seems no less deadly to me."

"I am not surprised at that. It is evil, after all." Turen noted, having silently awaited for Sherann and Valen to finish their nearby discussion over the fate of the shadow fighter and it's still unseen pilot.

"No it is not." The trio turned to find Valen and Sherann now alongside them, his eyes trailing across the surface of the vessel before them." It is a machine, nothing more. It's pilot no more different than any of us."

"You assume much with such little evidence before us, Valen." Sherann cautioned.

"Perhaps." Valen conceded with an ever so slight nod.

"What is to be done?" Emphilio asked, gesturing to the vessel.

"I wish to see the pilot." Valen stated simply.

Turen nodded and gestured to the crumpled nose o the craft. "We have been unable to locate anything resembling a cockpit as we know it, but believe that the pilots compartment in somewhere in this location."

Valen nodded, studying the fractures that marred the surface of the alien craft. Nodding once, he pulled on a pair of gloves. "Bring a pair of cutters over here. It's time we discovered what is inside." Turen turned to carry out his instruction but stopped short at a wave from his leader. "Be sure they are wearing gloves."

"Yes, Valen."

A half hour later the handful of Minbari technicians assigned to open the vessel were through the outer hull, backing away uncertainly at the strange combination of machine and organic tissue they encountered. A shudder rippled through the entire length of the vessel scattering the Minbari in seconds as the damaged hull where they were working changed before them to reveal an opening.

Movement with in the dark recesses increased the tension level of the Rangers present, many bringing forth their weapons. Seeing the raised weapons of those around him, Valen raised his hand to calm the nervous Minbari.

"Help...me." A ragged, whispered voice asked. A moment later a dark clad hand grasped the edge of the opening, pulling forward a vaguely Minbari shape covered in wires, tendrils and a mixture of red and black fluid.

"Hel..." A shudder ran through the pilot's frame, matching an equally violent ripple through the hull of the vessel.

"Who are you?" Valen asked, stepping closer to the pilot. Blue eyes flew up from a scarred face, recognition flaring instantly.

"Min...Minbari." The pilot whispered. He reached out a shaking hand. "Please. Machine...awakens. Kill me."

"You're Minbari." Valen whispered in shock as he finally noticed the cracked and broken bone ridge hidden so well the tendril and wires affixed the man's body.

"He's a traitor. Kill him!" Sherann growled out angrily, raising his weapon.

"No!" Valen yelled, but it was too late.

The discharge struck the pilot in the chest. A shudder rippled through the vessel, a strange pulsing from it. The pilot looked up with fear. "The Machine....kills....alive....please....cannot...stop it. Kill me!"

"You wish us to kill you?" Valen asked in surprise, leaning within arms length of the pilot.

The Minbari nodded. "Please." A wave of pain crossed his face before his features slackened, becoming cold and emotionless. "Machine says protect. Kill."

"What is your name? Fight it!" Valen demanded.

That seemed to bring the pilot back into control, sadness in his eyes. "Ulichan." He gasped as another wave of pain hit him. "Please, restore my honor."

The scream ripped from the mans throat quickly merged into the all too familiar scream of the Shadow vessels. Moments later a short burst of weapons fire struck the pilots body, a single shot striking his forehead and sending him flying back into the dark recesses of the ship.
A final violent rumble made its way through the vessel and then it was still.

Valen quickly scrambled his way to the opening, dragging the Minbari back out. For a moment he thought the man dead, until his blue eyes fluttered part way open. Valen tried his best to ignore the gaping wounds on his chest and head as he carefully pulled him from the vessel.

"Lie still. We shall help you." He assured the Minbari.

"Thank you." Ulichan whispered, before his body went limp, sightless eyes staring at some unseen point in the sky.

Gently laying the body down, Valen closed his eyes and thought a silent prayer for the deceased Minbari. When done he slowly raised his eyes to meet the horror filled eyes of the Minbari around him and knew in that instant a turning point in the War had been reached.